Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

I promise that this is not a petty junior high school girl question; I have a larger philosophical question in mind. So do me a favor and follow this dumb scenario for a second. There is a guy and a girl who are seemingly friends. The girl has a crush on the guy but we […]

via Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

Editor’s Note: She doesn’t have commenting up on her blog but I wanted to respond directly to the questions raised in this post because they are very interesting.

To kick off, intent does matter. And it matters in our government too. In order for any act to be deemed criminal in our justice system it requires that two elements be present actus reus (the criminal act) and mens rea (a criminal mind, or criminal intent). Mens rea specifically can have an objective or subjective analysis. For example, first degree murder requires a subjective analysis of mens rea, that is that the individual themselves were intent on killing the victim. Manslaughter on the other hand requires an objective analysis of the mens rea, regardless of what the individual intended would a reasonable person in the same situation conclude that the action could cause death. And the way you approached what is essentially a division of objective and subjective reality with your dating question in your post is exactly where you should be starting in these lines of questions. You asked whether an act between two people going out could be objectively a date but subjectively not. And you dove further, and questioned whether it was possible that one person could concur with the objective reality while the other did not– and I wager once I am done this comment you’re going to realize you already do know the answer.

Suppose you and I are standing in a room facing each other with a large wooden table between us. The room is completely bare, save for a large window directly behind you. From where I stand the table is light brown because the sun is shining directly on it. From where you stand the table is dark down because the sun is not shining directly on it. We are asked what colour the table objectively is and I say “light brown” and you say “dark brown” … who could be correct? Objectively the table must be a colour but subjectively, how we individually see the table, there are literally hundreds of millions of different colour combinations that the table could be called. Does it mean that the table in fact has no objective colour? That there is no objective truth? We can use a better example to dive into this question. What makes a fork a fork? You might say well a device that can be used to pick food and transport it in pieces to the mouth. Well I can do that with a screwdriver, so can a screwdriver be a fork? There must be something, some essence, that makes the fork a fork. For early philosophers like Plato that essence was the concept of the perfect fork that existed on some other plane but which we were aware of in this imperfect world (he used the analogy of a perfect circle which although easily conceived by humans, can never actually be physically made here on earth). Schopenhauer (who I love) went a little further and said that objects have a thing-in-themselves that usually manifests in utility, so a fork is a fork because, when I look at it, I imagine using it to pick and eat food and I do this because the thing-in-itself for a fork is a device used to pick and eat food. Schopenhauer also added that the thing-in-itself could never fully be perceived or understood either, for once it manifested itself materially it would become imperfect and therefore would cease to be a thing-in-itself. But I digressed in the philosophical history lesson.

To commit an act of sin requires both a sinful act and sinful intention. Sometimes this intention is subjective (i.e. did the person themselves knowingly intend this sin) and sometimes it is objective (i.e. would a reasonable person in the same position conclude it would be a sin before doing it).  It is not much different than our criminal system (probably because the criminal system was modelled after our understanding of sin at first). The difference between the criminal system and how God distributes justice is that a judge from the courts of the land cannot read into your heart and soul and know what you were thinking and knowing at the time. God really doesn’t require the objective reality because He is the objective reality and because He knows your subjective self objectively, that is what makes Him God. He does not have to compare your actions to a concept of a reasonable person because He can just know what you were thinking and what motivated your actions. He also knows what defences you might have before you even need to make them. A great Priest once told me something very insightful in high school when I was struggling with the same questions about sin because I do not consider it a sin to have sex outside of marriage in a monogamous and loving relationship. And I racked myself over this because objectively it can be said to be a sin but subjectively it did not feel that way to me and not just feel but logically it seems the spirit of the sinful act was a lack of monogamy and a depreciation of sexual acts. So he summed it all up for me,

“You know, come Judgement Day it will be just you and God, not me, not the Pope, no lawyer, no advocate, just you and Him. And you won’t need to speak or even defend yourself, He knows. And He will pass judgment. So if you’re comfortable in your decision, like really deep down comfortable and can say to yourself, knowing that God knows if you’re doubting or if there is a place inside saying it is not right that you are ignoring, that you are not sinning, than you are ready for Judgement Day.”

And I think considering the nature of God and the realities of objective and subjective truths in the world, that this is a pretty good approach and one that is certainly evident in the Christian faith.

 

4 thoughts on “Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

  1. Thank you so much for replying to my post! Very interesting to read your thoughts and insights on the matter. Your example with the table is spot on. Have you read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis? I think you would really enjoy it.

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    • I have most certainly read that book. C.S. Lewis is a lion without question. And I just finished reading your post on the book chapter by chapter, very well written and insightful. Have you read any other C.S. Lewis books? What about anything by Peter Kreeft? I think you would really like a book by Kreeft called ‘Christianity for Pagans,’ it is a commentary on the writings of Blaise Pascal who was a French mathematician who was very ill for most of his life and wrote these thoughts (his collection is called Pensee which is French for thoughts) on scraps of paper that were found littered throughout his home and office after he died. Pascal is most famous for the Wager, which is an idea that seeks to prove why it is better to believe in God than not (often confused with why God exists or not which is not the real argument). Kreeft takes that Wager from Pascal and writes a beautiful commentary on the entire collection on basically selling Christianity from a non-Biblical and non-Christian perspective. When I was younger and still forming my adult faith, Kreeft’s book together with Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis closed in a whole world where Christianity was relevant, real and alive both within the spiritual world and the temporal. It literally shattered any understanding I had from a child-like perspective that there was a veil between the “real” world and Christianity.

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      • The only other books I have read by C.S. Lewis are the “Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters” but I plan on reading “Surprised by Joy” next. Thank you for the book suggestion. I love philosophy, french, and math so it sounds right up my alley.

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      • The Screwtape Letters is my absolutely favourite C.S. Lewis book. It still is a caricature for how I see Satan working in the world. And I am ever so mindful of letting my fellow parishioner’s squeaky shoes or whistling nose get the best of me! I hope you track down the Kreeft book and look forward to reading a review in your blog.

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